Sunday, September 12, 2021

Freebie Dungeon Challenge

So, here is the recent outputs of my ever-evolving dungeon generator code for Tablesmith. The idea is that you generate a big map. I use this ZORBUS map generator and also a local installation of Wizarddawn, mostly. Although I enjoy drawing maps, I find my own style of mapping is a little lame and IMHO dungeons ought to be the weirder the better, dig?

fixing to throw down a gauntlet. Are you an all-powerful demigod, or a scrub? Well? Which is it?

So, you make a vast, mostly lightless land. Then, if your players are brave (they are!) they agree to consensually hallucinate entry of their avatars into this perilous realm. If you the DM/Judge/Whatever are brave (you are!) you may try it like this:

You get your random map and have your mass-generator make you THREE different levels, slightly more dangerous than what you would feel comfortable with. Why? Because death is right around the corner. BUT, you don't look at the listings. Instead, you place each listing into a separate envelope. And you sit down to play. When the avatars go hence into the deeps, you have a player pick an envelope and you play the dungeon inside it, with the map you already made! You AND the players will have about as much awareness of what is going to happen... a kind of magic.

Your random encounter table ought to include some badass wizards, some crazy nasty dragons or near-dragon substitutes, friendly dungeon caretakers, a couple of settlements with some friend-able factions, and a fuck-tonne of treasure there for the taking, with plenty of things for each class to do. Unlocking locks, slaying beasts, turning undead, deciphering codes, tracking escapees, maps to follow, frenemies to make, and many many saving throws. So much treasure that you level up a lot, but dangerous enough to get that you die a lot if you fuck around and find out. And you have to get somewhere safe with the treasure to get your XP. Sprinkle around some easily defensible safe rooms with water and a toilet (I mean, why the fuck not?)

the pseudorandom lightless realm in question

I use the Moldvay random encounter method : every other turn roll a d6 and on a 1 you get an encounter moving toward the party from some short distance away (2d6x10") is how I interpret it. If you wanted to really and truly up the ante, you could have a random encounter happen on a 1 or a 2. You are free to make the random encounter table to your liking, because that will take some of the pressure off of you to totally think on your feet - you can stock it with RP opportunities, combat, horrid events, mysterious clues, helpless supplicants, or faction leaders for players to align with. Whatever you want the mostly flavor of the thing to be, the Random Encounters is where you really customize it. And feel free to slightly modify the weird entries if they don't suit your sensibilities but be fair and consistent or some players will catch on and get cranky (in my experience). You can pick some core beasties for the level, a couple of humanoid factions, and keep an eyeball on one of your bigger rooms for a possible small settlement.


2: A BADASS RANDOM WIZARD and ENTOURAGE (have these generated previously)

3: FRIENDLY NATIVE (some talky, wimpy race of under-dwellers, plenty of food and rough gear to trade, possible henchpersons or replacement PCs)

4: NPC Party (again, generate randomly, I usually have like 6 pregenerated parties on a separate sheet with their alignments and gear and some motivations)

5: swarm of beasties, small and irritating

6: pack of beasties, few but dangerous

7: wandering beasty, large but not a top-level predator (see below)

8: strange possibly dangerous environmental disruption (lights out/on, noxious gas, gravity fluctuations, chaos magical flux, mass-migration of vermin)

9: mindless undead or automaton (I like robots, because genre purity is dumb)

10: ethereal undead (gotta keep clerics useful, too)

11: random unguarded treasure but slightly hidden (in addition to whatever might already be generated in the room)

12: A Dragon. Whatever that means (I like Manticores, myself). Run for your life, or stay and get trounced or possibly make a powerful ally.

I include, as an attached file, one of these that I have made this morning. I challenge you to use it, and I will think of a prize if you let me know how it goes. I am thinking of making a donation of some copies of my gamebook to the local High School's gaming club near where I work, and maybe I will include you as the benefactor if you will let me know how your session(s) go.


Personal Appendix N: Atari 2600 Adventure

I look back on the things that influenced me and my thinking about Dungeons and Dragons when I was 8 or 10 and a few highlights stand out strongly.

There are the usuals: Transformers, Thundercats, He-Man, various live action TV shows... I wonder if the A-Team is a huge influence on the way I play D&D? I bet it is and does, and I wonder if other people have made that particular connection. I don't even remember much about the show, other than the various team-work and "make some deadly gizmo" montage stuff. BA Barracus and his poison cat milk, Mad Mog Murdock, Faceman, Hannibal Lecter, that Robot V.I.C.K.I. that we all know and love. The hideous panther cultists that imbued the doctor guy with the power of the jungle cats. A 30 story battle gundam that shoots lasers out of its mouth. Man, the A-Team was the best. Don't try to mess up my A-Team headcannon with your feeble takes on reality: my version is better and will remain so in the face of contradictory evidence. The earth is flat, CORONA is a hoax, the aliens are prepping us for invasion, and my own subjective memory of the 80's has little bearing on Reaganism, Thatcherism, and where we are now.

Case in point: Atari's "Adventure" for the 2600 system. In my view the 2600 is the most important of all gaming systems and at the root of the present day mass-dissociation from reality of which I am a merely minor player. Why? It was ubiquitous and easy-to-grasp, not like the infuriating personal computers of the day that required "patience" and "understanding". Slap that cartridge in, flip the switch, and Let's GOOOOOOO. Remind me one day to talk about my experience programming adventure games in BASIC on the C64 - later. Right now, we're talking about "Adventure".

Warren Robinette's opus was not only a tour-d-force of programming economy and subversive swindling of the managers-in-charge, it's also clever and beautiful and elegant and infinitely replayable! If you're naive, he pretty much invented not just visual CRPGs but also the Easter Egg as we know it. BUT! BUT! The manual for the cartridge ("what's a cartridge? today's kids will ask") - even though  it seems to me not even written by Robinette, it contains the structure of a pure, distilled fairy tale and perfect and complete premise for every adventure before-and-ever-after. Stolen from Arthurian legend, somehow better and more perfect and precise. The box art painting by Susan Jakael quite simply merges with the actual game to become something that is, in my 7 or 8 year old brain, better than any drug or movie or cartoon until I was introduced shortly thereafter to D&D by my teenage half-brother and some gawky older kids... (gary and brian, you weirdos, thanks for nothing!)

In the box art, foreground we can see a few people/players/elves(?) trapped in the hedge maze, where a coiling wyrm holds aloft a yellow key. Beneath the wyrm, the crown and a hand that reaches for it... In the distance, a few other elves march off on pilgrimage from the Golden Castle. The Golden Castle is a Camelot, a Magic Place, the Ur-Castle. Banners flying, portcullis, you know the drill. And that's about it. A tree, dead. The tree looms large in my young mind... Why is the tree blighted but the hedge-maze green and robust? Well, the tree is natural of course and the hedge-maze is MAGIC, of course. The manual names some dragons, tells us that the sword is a part of the Good Magic, that the Dragons are Bad Magic (the Bat, too). The Magnet is hand-waved in the manual, and the Bridge (perversion of  2D reality!) is not even mentioned. The manual takes great pains to explain away a hardware problem implicit in the game, namely that the more sprites there are on the screen, the less likely they are to work properly and this can even be used (for example) to get past the dead body of a dragon that  might block your way... I can dimly recall the feeling of wonder and perplexity when I first encountered this game, and the sheer awful terror of a struggling dot swallowed into the belly of a roaring beast. Trapped Jonah-like, as my Lutheran school brain clearly connected. Hit the button and he's/you're/it's regurgitated and you try again.

More later


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